Here’s a common scenario in some jobs. Your employer mandates overtime or is so short-staffed that they keep scheduling you to work. You’re being told you must work seven days in a row without a day off. You’re exhausted, but you’re told there’s nothing they can do. Can they legally require you to work entire weeks without a break?
California Labor Code Section 552 clearly states, “No employer of labor shall cause his employees to work more than six days in seven.” However, there are exceptions to this rule that may enable your employer to continually schedule you. There’s also a rule that many employees don’t understand because it’s not as clear-cut as you might think.
The statement “to work more than six days in seven” is where you need to pay attention. This means that for every six days of work, you’re getting one day off. It doesn’t specify that that day off must be on day seven. Your employer could ask you to work 12 days in a row and give you two days off and be covered using a “rolling-basis” understanding. That’s one of the biggest exceptions to the rule, but there are several others.
Several rules have been updated in agricultural jobs. The first change began on January 1, 2019, and limited agricultural workers to no more than 9.5 hours of work per day or 55 hours in a week without paying time and a half.
In 2022, a new rule applies to farms and agricultural employers with no more than 25 employees. Those workers could not work more than eight hours per day or 40 hours per week without receiving 1.5x overtime pay. Workers who work more than 12 hours in one day get double-time pay.
- Bargaining Agreements
Bargaining agreements nullify California Labor Code Section 552. If you’re part of a union, the union contract you signed lays out the employment rules your employer must follow.
Suppose your union contract states that your employer is allowed to make it mandatory for production workers to work weekends when they’re getting behind. The contract goes on to say that after two consecutive weekends, the employee must get the next weekend off. This union contract overrides California laws and lays out the rules that employers follow.
If an employer cannot get enough staff and must rely on workers to work extra hours or seven days or more in a row, hardship is one reason that a company can ignore the rules set forth in California Labor Code. Employees do have to be paid the appropriate overtime pay, however.
- Part-Time Employees
When an employee doesn’t work more than six hours a day or 30 hours per week, the rule no longer applies. You’re still entitled to overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week, but you can be forced to work seven days during a week. But, you do get a break if the extra days you worked put you over 30 hours of work that week. If that’s the case, you’re entitled to a day off.
- “Protection of Life or Property From Loss or Destruction”
Another exception is defined as workers whose job involves “protection of life or property from loss or destruction. This includes workers like firemen, paramedics, and police officers. Ideally, superiors want to have enough staffing to ensure no worker is overworked.
California is known for natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, landslides, and wildfires. If it’s an all-hands-on-deck emergency, trained professionals may need to work extra-long shifts for multiple days in a row. Natural disasters are not the only reason first responders may work longer. It was common during the pandemic to have responders out sick and need to have enough coverage.
In California, EMTs may work upwards of 60 hours per week. Sometimes, to ensure there is coverage on evenings, weekends, and holidays, EMTs may be scheduled to work a two-day shift. Firefighter rules are laid out by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Firefighters may be scheduled to work anywhere from 7 to 28 consecutive days and not qualify for overtime pay unless they’ve worked more than 212 hours in 28 days, which is the equivalent of 53 hours in 7 days. Law enforcement officers have similar rules only the number of hours drops to 171 hours in 28 days (the equivalent of 43 hours in 7 days).
Medical professionals are other workers who prevent the loss of life. In 2017, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education changed guidelines to allow residents to work 28-hour shifts twice a week with a weekly limit of 80 hours. The goal of this change was to ensure residents and interns were not having to walk out of a surgical procedure and create distractions and disruptions.
- Train Workers
Train workers are subject to different rules. These workers include brakemen, conductors, engineers, firemen, motormen, train dispatchers, and telegraph operators. The rule is they must be given a minimum of 10 hours off after working 12 consecutive hours. No train worker is allowed to work more than 12 consecutive hours.
If a train worker has worked a total of 12 hours in a 24-hour period, they must get at least eight consecutive hours off. Suppose you’re a train brakeman and you’ve worked six hours in the morning and gone home for several hours. But, you’re working another six-hour shift from 6 p.m. to midnight. You have to get eight consecutive hours off.
Train dispatchers and telegraph operators who work specifically in jobs relating to train movements are not allowed to work a shift longer than nine hours in a 24-hour period in offices and buildings that are operational 24/7. In offices and buildings that are only open in the daytime, the maximum shift is 13 hours. If there is an emergency situation, an additional four hours on duty are allowed.
Make Sure You’re Paid Fairly
Whether you volunteer to fill in for coworkers who are sick or are mandated to work extra days, make sure you’re being paid fairly. Your employer cannot cheat you out of the overtime pay you’ve earned.
If you work seven days in a row, note that any work that exceeds eight hours on that seventh day must be paid double time or higher. Your employer cannot pay you time and a half. Plus, any hours exceeding 40 hours in a workweek have to be paid time and a half.
Suppose you’ve worked seven days this week. You’re assigned to work 12 hours on Sunday to cover someone who called in sick. The extra four hours must be paid double time.
Talk to Us for a Free Evaluation of Your Rights
If you volunteer to work seven days, that’s one thing. If you’re forced and feel your employer is violating your rights, it’s important to ask an employment law attorney. It may be illegal to force you to work.
Have you been working seven-day weeks and not getting overtime pay? It’s not right, and you need to talk to an attorney who specializes in California Labor Code. Shegerian Conniff is here to ensure you are treated fairly and paid any overtime you’re due. Reach out to us online to discuss your situation, schedule a free consultation, and learn more about your employment rights.